Between its stronghold on the comic book movie industry with its Marvel properties, on the science fiction industry with its seemingly endless slate of upcoming Star Wars releases, and on the children’s film industry upon which it built its empire (at which it still basically wins through Pixar), Disney truly is the source behind almost everything we watch.
That’s not even mentioning the sizable number of original television shows it has churned out on The Disney Channel, through which numerous child actors gained enormous fame. Shows like Hannah Montana, That’s So Raven, and countless others have spawned some of the biggest stars of our generation. Then there’s the recent news about Disney’s interest in acquiring FOX propertie. All told, it starts to seem like Disney may one day control all our on-screen entertainment.
To remind us that not everything that Disney’s name is on turns to gold, here’s a list of 15 Disney Child Stars Who Failed At Adult Careers.
15. Orlando Brown
In the mid-90s, little Orlando Brown started popping up everywhere. He even got the opportunity to star as an analogue for a young Damon Wayans named Damey Wayne in an animated show called Waynehead. In 2003, He got his real big break when he scored the role of Raven-Symoné’s best friend and sidekick Eddie Thomas on the hugely popular Disney Channel original show That’s So Raven.
Since then, he’s had any number of legal charges brought against him including but not limited to domestic battery and meth possession. While he’s attempted to pursue a career as a rapper, he hasn’t seen much success. Ironically, his latest single, which came out in 2016, is a hardcore hip hop track titled “F**k My Fame.”
Due to his life choices and more recent inappropriate statements he made about Symoné and their time working together, he was not invited to reprise his role as Eddie in the That’s so Raven sequel Raven’s Home.
14. Ashley Tisdale
During the height of its popularity, Disney’s High School Musical franchise was a bonafide cultural phenomenon, due in no small part to the series’ snobby antagonist Sharpay Evans and her put-upon brother Ryan. Not only did Tisdale star as Sharpay in all three iterations of the series’ main run, she also got her own spin-off in the form of Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure, where the titular mean girl-turned-protagonist heads to New York to pursue her dream of starring on Broadway. She even won several awards for the role.
While her HSM co-stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens have enjoyed phenomenal success continuing late into their 20s, Tisdale’s public image has slowly faded. While she hasn’t completely lost the public’s interest, her musical endeavors continue to be met with large indifference and her on-screen appearances are becoming less and less high profile. She now runs her own YouTube channel.
13. Raviv Ullman
Back when he was still going by Ricky Ullman, Raviv seemed to have had it made with his own starring role on the Disney Channel original Phil of the Future. Ullman played Phil Diffy, the eldest son in a family trying to hide the fact that they had been time displaced from the future. The show only lasted two seasons, but it was popular enough to garner award nominations, if not any actual wins.
Aside from a recurring role on the unsuccessful Lifetime show Rita Rocks, Ullman hasn’t been on the big or small screen in any real way since then other than bit parts. Today, he goes by his birth name and mostly performs on live stages. He’s performed in a number of Off-Broadway productions including a recent stint as an entitled older brother in play called Bad Jew.
12. Christy Carlson Romano
Not only did Christy Carlson Romano star as Louis’ older sister Ren on the Disney hit Even Stevens, she also voiced the eternally awesome titular hero of the classic Disney cartoon Kim Possible. That show was popular enough to spawn two original TV movies, the first Disney animated show to do so. Oh, and she put herself through university at the same time.
Romano’s descent into obscurity has less to do with bad decisions than anyone else on this list and her current activities are actually pretty cool: she gives talks at youth coaching sessions, is actively involved with a number of charitable organizations and recently became a proud mother. She also still has music available on MySpace, if anyone out there is into that.
11. Matthew Lawrence
In the early ’90s, super hero teams with multiple adjectives were all the rage with kids. Shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Big Bad Beetleborgs and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were for all intents and purposes the soundtrack to every kid’s Saturday morning. It was on one of the more obscure entries to this zeitgeist titled Super Samurai Syber-Squad that Matthew Lawrence scored his first lead role as the virtual crime fighting Servo.
He was later given the chance to play a more grounded role on the ABC smash hit sitcom Boy Meets World. Introduced in season 5 as Shawn Hunter’s older brother Jack, he was instrumental in helping the show tackle alcoholism, one of the many serious topics tackled by the show that made the erstwhile children’s program a beloved classic.
Sadly, as the ’90s ended, Lawrence’s career stagnated and seemingly hasn’t gained any new momentum since. He showed up again recently as Jack in Disney’s Boy Meets World sequel show Girl Meets World, but that was just another in a string of one-off appearances that went absolutely nowhere.
10. Jennifer Stone
If you’ve never heard the name Jennifer Stone, chances are you’re at least aware of some of the titles and actors she’s been associated with. She starred as the titular heroine in Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, had a lead role in the Mean Girls sequel as one of the enemies of a new group of plastics, and lent her voice to a couple of episodes of the popular Disney Channel cartoon Phineas and Ferb.
Her most popular role was that of Harper Finkle, the mortal best friend of Selena Gomez’s wizard character Alex Russo on the Disney Channel’s magic-based sitcom Wizards of Waverly Place. While she was a mainstay during the show’s four season run and two movie adaptations (one of which was a one-hour TV special titled “The Wizards Return: Alex vs. Alex”), she hasn’t done anything to make an sort of real splash since and still lives in the shadow of the much more popular Gomez.
9. Cody Linley
In his teens, Cody Linley enjoyed a sprinkling of appearances in a number of Disney properties including That’s so Raven and The Disney Channel Games. He even enjoyed a popular recurring role as Miley Stewart’s sometimes love interest on the smash hit musical comedy Hannah Montana.
During that time, he also featured as a full season contestant on the ABC reality competition Dancing with the Stars. As evidenced by a quick look at the list of other celebrity contestants, which has included the likes of Mel B, Donny Osmond, and Mya, the show is not a place for any famous person whose career is on the rise.
Recently, Linley has made appearances in the latest two entries of the Syfy B-movie spoof series Sharknado, and that’s pretty much it. He has also attempted to launch a solo music career, but to date, only one universally ignored single titled “Breathe” has been released.
8. Lalaine Vergara
Lizzie McGuire may have only lasted four seasons on the Disney Channel, but its legacy is undeniable. It won numerous awards and launched its lead actress Hilary Duff into a successful, multi-faceted career which has included more serious acting as well as comedic roles and even a triple-platinum selling album titled Metamorphosis.
The same cannot be said for her co-star Lalaine Vergara, who played McGuire’s best friend Miranda on the show. Vergara turned down a chance to appear in the film adaptation of the show in order to pursue a career in music which never fully blossomed. She suffered from substance abuse issues when in 2007 she was arrested and plead guilty to possession of crystal meth.
7. Ryan Merriman
Ryan Merriman may have almost exclusively forgettable movies on his resume, but at least there are a lot of them. As a child, he was featured in a number of television movies including the Disney Channel originals Smart House, The Luck of the Irish, and A Ring of Endless Light. He was also in Taken – not the movie, but an episode of the 2002 Stephen Spielberg sci-fi quasi-anthology series. For that, he won a Young Actor’s Award for Best Performance in a TV movie, mini-series or special.
Over the years since, he’s consistently had small appearances, but nothing has stuck. His biggest claims to fame since Disney seem to be a string of horror movie sequels which include The Ring Two and Final Destination 3. He did score a lead role in the 2016 drama film The Congressman, but nobody saw The Congressman.
6. Brian Bonsall
Brian Bonsall pretty much began his life in the spotlight as the youngest addition to the popular ’80s sitcom Family Ties. His streak continued as he landed the part of the young Klingon K’ehleyr on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and culminated with his starring role as Preston Waters in Disney’s 1994 feature film Blank Check. (Points to you if you remember that movie.)
After that, he made the bold decision to retire from acting and focus on making punk rock music. As of 2016, Bonsall is an active touring member of pop punk band The Ataris, who have also struggled to maintain a popular status ever since releasing their cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” released in 2003.
Like a few of the other names on this list, Bonsall has had troubles with the law, having had numerous assault charges brought against him. Interestingly, a man named Nathan Loebe has spent the past few years impersonating Bonsall on dating sites and was recently arrested and charged with first-degree assault.
5. Sterling Knight
For both Sterling Knight and the rest of the cast and crew behind the Disney Channel original Sonny with a Chance, things didn’t go as planned when the show’s star Demi Lovato made the decision to leave due to dealing with emotional traumas.
The show, on which Knight played villain-turned-softy Chad Cooper, had already been renewed for a third season when Lovato made the unexpected call. Disney opted to keep the rest of the characters on payroll and attempt to re-brand the third season as a spin-off titled So Random!, which was the name of the sketch comedy show within the actual show.
Despite a healthy collection of guest stars and performers, including the likes of Justin Bieber and Tony Hawk, the spin-off did not gather as much attention as its parent show and was not renewed for a second season. Since then, Knight has made appearances in a number of films and TV shows, but none that have garnered the young actor any real attention.
4. Steven Anthony Lawrence
Everyone remembers the Disney Channel original Even Stevens because it launched the career of our own lovable wacko Shia LeBoeuf. If you were to get into a serious conversation about that show, you would be remiss not to mention the antics of Steven Anthony Lawrence’s character Bernard “Beans” Aranguren, who was basically Goober from BoJack Horseman‘s fictional sitcom Horsin’ Around. The character was even popular enough to make it into the Even Stevens movie.
Since then, nothing major has happened for Lawrence. His most notable recent roles have been brief appearances in episodes of TV shows or low budget movies. His character Beans has recently enjoyed a small resurgence in popularity in recent years though, due to a meme account on Twitter called Bean’s Memes which sought to super-impose the rascal’s face over pictures of anyone and everyone and created puns such as Star Beans and Childish Gambeanso.
3. Mitchel Musso
Things seemed to be going so well for Mitchel Musso. Hot off of his popular run on Hannah Montana, he had a starring role in his own Disney show called Pair of Kings, he was the host of the good=humored prank show PrankStars, and his debut self-titled album had charted at #19 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Then, at the tender age of 20, he was arrested for drunk driving in the state of California. He was charged with 36 months of informal probation, was forced to pay a fine and had to attend an alcohol education class. The youthful mishap also cost him both of his leading roles and led to Disney distancing itself from the young star in general.
2. Brad Renfro
Brad Renfro is definitely the most tragic entry on this list. While his head billing alongside then-superstar Jonathan Taylor-Thomas as Huckleberry Finn in Disney’s Tom and Huck absolutely helped to push his young career forward, it was with the much more serious The Cure that the world really began to take notice of the young talent. His role as the friend of a young boy who contracts AIDs earned him two awards.
Following that success, Renfro continued to appear in a large number of critically acclaimed films. Unfortunately, he also began to succumb to the trappings of superstar life. After a series of substance related arrests which began before he was even old enough to have graduated high school, Renfro died of a heroine overdose at only 25 years old.
After his death, it was reported by TMZ that Renfro had a secret son named Yamato. Out of respect for his privacy, his age and whereabouts have been kept under wraps by the family.
1. Bella Thorne
Bella Thorne’s star was already on the rise when she got her lead role as CeCe Jones on the dance-heavy Disney Channel sitcom Shake it Up! She had already starred in a 10 episode web series titled Little Monk (which was a spin-off of the popular detective show Monk) along with a number of other notable appearances. As they tend to do with their stars, the Disney-owned show turned Thorne and her co-star Zendaya (who you may recognize from the recent Marvel flick Spider-Man: Homecoming) into household names within the preteen crowd.
Thorne is the youngest actor featured in this list and still boasts an impressive number of current releases to her name, but the prestige of her credits is quickly beginning to show signs of waning. While reviews for her current show Famous in Love haven’t been dismal, they haven’t exactly been stellar either. Add to that the disaster that was the recent Amityville: The Awakening and you’ve got a recipe for a career in serious need of some resuscitation.
What other Disney child stars couldn’t hack it as adults? Let us know in the comments!
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